Hurricanes, Typhoons and Earthquakes

“Of course, you should throw in weather as you write about your brother, how it was raining out the day you finally realized he was always going to be better in school than you, that no teacher would praise you the way they did him. Or it was snowing out the last time you saw your grandfather. He was lying small and broken in his bed and the flakes were big and slow out the window. Weather is a rich and important quality in writing because it’s a real and affecting thing in human life. Lace it through your work.”

–Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir

Tell me a story where weather played a predominant role. Describe it so we can feel the wind, sense the accumulation of snow, or hear the storm cellar door slamming shut. Then write a second story, that isn’t predominantly about the weather, making sure you work weather into the background.

Comments

  1. Kathy McClure says

    This is one small section of a book I wrote about my grandmother just after she got married.

    At five the sky turned dark and ugly and the wind picked up, slamming snow against the windows. Over the howling wind I heard something else. The cry of a coyote, chillingly close. I lit the kerosene lamp and put the sewing away. There was nothing to do now but wait and I sat in the rocking chair in front of the fireplace, wrapped in a quilt, watching the flickering flames. I tried to think about Grandma Draper living in this house but her memory slipped away. I thought about my family, warm and safe in the house on Main Street but they slipped away too. I must have dozed because when I woke the fire had gone out and I was stiff with cold. I stood up and went into the bedroom, knowing with a sinking feeling Len would not be coming home tonight.

    • says

      Kathy, welcome to the Roadmap blog and thanks for sharing this cold, lonely night with us. The weather definitely intensified the loneliness. You painted a vivid picture with your words. I hope you keep coming back!

    • Hazel says

      Kathy,
      Thank you for this beautifully written experience of your grandmother in the storm. It was nice of you to share her with us.

    • Diana says

      Kathy,
      I’m dying to know what happened to Len. I was caught up in the moment feeling the wind, cold and hearing the coyotes.

      • Janet says

        The lead sentence was a very vivid, weather filled image. Also, I, too, want to know why Len would not be coming home. Thank you for sharing.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Hi Kathy,
      What a wonderfully chilling description of the storm! You really hooked me in.
      And of course, I am curious about Len. Who is he? and Why won’t he be coming home tonight?

  2. Karla says

    Just Traveling Through

    Somewhere near my coastal destination that autumn,
    I drove my white convertible, top down and heater cranked up,
    On a road first over, then alongside,
    A swamp with mist rising from the still waters
    Between the thinly branched, delicately leaved trees.
    It dampened my skin briefly, before the heated air blasted it away.
    The wind and the bank of dark clouds overhead
    Played well with each other that late afternoon.
    When the wind picked up, a shuffling of dry leaves, the clouds hid the sun.
    The trees replied by bowing in a whispered chorus of staggered synchronization,
    A wave scripted by the wind’s direction.
    When the wind rested, the clouds parted to brighten the landscape,
    The tree trunks righted, as if pulled by a supple, elastic band,
    And the sun shone through the vertical slices between the trees, onto my forehead.
    The heavy droplets of water in the air
    Sparkled like hundreds of diamond buds.
    I could have touched them by poking my fingers straight up.
    A little closer to town,
    The swamp on my left blended into a marsh thick with browned reeds
    Straight ahead into the distance.
    Marsh flowed into the Atlantic ocean on the right.
    Perhaps this was a road to the end of the earth?
    A brown pelican beat its wings heavily to alight above the marsh
    Then flew out to sea as my car hugged the curve that headed inland.
    The hum of the engine reminded me that I was not lost
    In a pristine wilderness.
    And when I arrived a few minutes later,
    It was hard to believe that anything bad could happen here.

    ————————————————————————————————
    My First House

    I knew I would buy the small, sunny bungalow the moment I stepped through the door. The morning sun of the North Carolina spring was sliding in sheets through the windows from three directions. The angles and shadows of sunlight illuminated the warmth of the wood floors. I’d grown up in a carpeted ranch house in California—as had everyone I’d known—and I thought wood floors were some kind of magic. Maybe they appealed to me because in an old house, they seemed like a symbol for how to encase the past in polyurethane. I thought it was a good sign that the house was built in 1920, the same year that women won the right to vote. It was a time in my life where that house would anchor me in ways that people could not.

    The house was placed perfectly on the sloped lot, a basement hidden on the back side, a large deck above. I began most of my days there on the deck, perched above the wildness of my back yard, coffee in one hand, a book in the other. I’m not sure that I ever stepped into my back yard after I constructed the fence that would keep my dog safely in. I liked the tangle of trees and vines that obscured my house from the neighbors.

    The house had no front porch, just a small open area that was tiled with burgundy squares. The tiles angled around the side of the house to a small side porch, also accessible from one of the bedrooms. I didn’t have many belongings in those days—I probably had more rooms in the house than major items of furniture—but I designated that room as the “reading room.” The light from the glass door and the banks of windows opened up the room to the North Carolina skyline of tall pine trees. I installed curtains on the lower half of the windows to block out my view of the neighbors and watched the trees bustle back and forth in the wind as I nestled into one of those overstuffed Lazyboy recliners that I dragged from a musty antique store and drove home, upside down, in my two seater convertible. With the top down, this “impractical” car made for some great hauling.

    The first time it rained after I moved in, I discovered the reading room’s secret. While I’d taken a bath in my claw footed tub, set on a patterned floor of tiny black and white tiles, the sky had darkened into grey sludge. I heard a sound from the reading room, and it sounded like the roof had sprung a leak, and water was pouring in. I grabbed the quilt off my bed to warm up from the cool air dampening my skin, and walked down the hall. I stood in the center of the room, transfixed in peacefulness, pointed towards the corner of the room where the two banks of windows met. The rain was beating against all the windows, as rhythmic as heatbeats, the only sound was water. Hearing the heartbeat of the storm and watching the rain trickle in silent pathways down past the edge of the windows, everything else complicating my life was drowned out. I was inside the rain and protected from it at the same time. I snuggled into my recliner and fell asleep.

    • Shellie T. says

      I want to live there! This pulled me both in different ways, the first, the description of weather in the different elements, and then the house , Wow, great job.

    • Cynthia Close says

      Your first house is always an important one, and you made those first moments of discovery, getting to know it, like getting to know a new lover, very real.

    • Hazel says

      Karla,
      Really liked these two pieces of writing. Would like to visit them. You have shown us that storms don’t always have to be scary things but can be comforting as in your last lines, “Hearing the heartbeat of the storm and watching the rain trickle in silent pathways down past the edge of the windows, everything else complicating my life was drowned out. I was inside the rain and protected from it at the same time. I snuggled into my recliner and fell asleep.”

      Thank you for sharing. Great read; good writing.

    • Wendy says

      Karla,

      I like the vividness of both of these stories. I really felt that I was there. I loved getting to know your home. Thank you.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Karla,
      You used some wonderful images in this piece.
      “The sun shone in vertical slices between the trees, onto my forehead. Yum!
      And so many others

    • beverly Boyd says

      Karla
      You used some wonderful images in this piece.
      “The sun shone in vertical slices between the trees, onto my forehead. Yum!
      And so many others

    • Diana says

      Karla,
      I loved both of your pieces and how you weather influenced each story. I delighted in the description of your reading room. As I read it I longed to be in that room.

    • Janet says

      The last line of the first piece is intriguing. “It was hard to believe that anything bad could happen here.” At first, it took me to times when I have felt awed by nature and weather. Then I thought, this line is an introduction to something bad that did happen and I want to know more.
      Both pieces held wonderful imagery. Thank you for sharing.

    • Ilana says

      Karla- I love your descriptions in this piece. You had me right there with you, listening to ‘the heartbeat of the storm’. I watched you walk onto that deck with a coffee in one hand and a book in the other. So cozy. Ilana

  3. Lee Xanthippe says

    I wish I had time for two stories this morning as I sit in this freezing cold house—literally, it’s been freezing here in this little California town called Groan that rarely sees freezing temperatures. I’ve forgotten how to behave, like yesterday jamming to work, I see the lines of snowflake-like frost pressed to my windshield as I walk up to the car and have that first impulse—“oh, I have water in the car” and I’m so swift, I grab the shrunken in bottle, turn the top to release the pressure, let the big bottle breathe then pour the water on my shield just as I realize what I’ve done as it freezes and laughs at me—yeah, I’ve created a giant ice shield on my windshield.

    I learn from my experiences. I learn from my impulsivity. How to know when impulsivity is good and when it is not good? An ice shield—sometimes I need more of a shield from this world—the moment of stopping before I hug someone with their arms out—hard not to react to once I’ve hugged the gal next to him, but I don’t want to hug him. I do hug in that sort of side way. There is no reason in particular that I don’t want to hug him that I can come up with in that moment, but I don’t need a reason really, I just need to know I have a feeling and it is not a full huggy feeling and that means that awkward as it may be, I need to hold my hand out instead to shake hands. I might need to hurt feelings in the moment to protect my own feelings. I can explain later. I am the type of person that needs to do what feels right. (Or I will pay later.)

    Or if I am doing something that feels wrong or awkward—to choose it wisely, like trying something new or working on a new habit—with awareness that I am feeling strange at some benefit or ultimate benefit to me. (I am learning to be a more time-aware person or I am writing a 50,000 word draft of a novel. I am making myself sit down. I am making myself go. I am making myself learn something. And I am trying to find gentle ways of convincing myself to follow through.)

    It is okay to be who I am. I do not have to be an actor in someone else’s script. Most people would not want me to be. But impulsively I do the polite and pleasing thing—at my own risk. It is okay to be the ice shield in need of the genuine slow warm thaw, take the time, can’t push the time—much as I try—turning on the wipers which at first scrape raw dry ice, slowly push at sheets of ice that shrink smaller and smaller, from Iceland to the littlest islands of Hawaii, named and then too small to be named, until everything is gone, until my vision is clear.

    • says

      Lee, I loved the image of you throwing the water on your windshield and it freezing immediately. My partner, Karyn, seems to think that’s the way to deal with a frozen windshield because she grew up in Oregon where it was never really that cold. I come from the east coast so I know better. That’s what ice scrapers are for.

      I think it’s interesting where you traveled in this piece. The whole issue of side hugging and taking your time warming up to people–I love how the whole idea of chilliness and warmth took on a whole new meaning.

    • Karla says

      I loved this: “It is okay to be the ice shield in need of the genuine slow warm thaw, take the time, can’t push the time—” The message of self acceptance, and the metaphor of chill and thaw was terrific. Thank you!

    • Hazel says

      Lee,
      Once again I admire your ability to analyze every situation and come to terms with the terms you set out in your writing.

      Your last paragraph is so inspiring, accepting! “It is okay to be the ice shield in need of the genuine slow warm thaw, take the time, can’t push the time—much as I try—turning on the wipers which at first scrape raw dry ice, slowly push at sheets of ice that shrink smaller and smaller, from Iceland to the littlest islands of Hawaii, named and then too small to be named, until everything is gone, until my vision is clear.”

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Wendy says

      Lee, I really felt drawn into this piece I felt like I was an old friend and you were telling me what was going on in your most precise, intimate, honest way you could. Thank you.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Lee,
      I loved the personification of the water freezing and laughing at you when you threw it on the windshield! I’ve done that too, you’d think I’d know better after all the snow storms I’ve driven in during much earlier years of my life.

      • Sheila McGinley says

        I too loved it’s ok to be the ice shield in need of the genuine slow warm thaw………and “until everything is gone and my vision is clear”. Dynamite. Gave me a combination of shiver and peace.

        Also, I too did that exact thing with throwing the water on the windshield. I also tried to clean off the ice with my keys, scraping the glass. I was so there with you.

  4. says

    When I was 21 years old, I left the ashram and the lotus feet of Guru Maharaj ji, and was casting around for what to do with my very fucked-up young life, I decided that I wanted to work in a Waldorf school, so I applied to the Waldorf Institute in Detroit, Michigan and was accepted. But after one semester, I realized that although I loved the creativity inherent in all aspects of Waldorf education, the underlying philosophy I had to study was based on Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy, and at that point in my life, I could not stand the idea of trading in what I perceived to be one cult for another. So after a semester, very conflicted, I quit.

    I decided to move back to Denver, where I’d lived before, because my best friend, Nona lived there. If she had lived in Katmandu, I probably would have followed her there. I didn’t own much at the time, probably about one Volkswagen bug’s full of stuff and I just so happened to own a black VW Beetle. But even I was smart enough to realize that it was winter and I was driving from Detroit, Michigan to Denver, Colorado and making the trip in an old funky heatless VW bug was not a good idea. So I left my car behind with my roommate, whose name I do not remember—I should though because she ended up stealing my car—and I went to a driveaway car agency and I signed a contract that enabled me to drive some kind of sleek 4 door car—let’s call it a Chrysler LeBaron—from Detroit to Denver where someone was waiting for it to be delivered. I can’t imagine that any 21 year old could get such a contract today—but I guess times were different then.

    I packed up everything I owned, including my sleeping bag and a pillow, and headed south toward high way 70 and then turned due west where I ran smack into a huge motherfucking blizzard. I remember plowing through a driving rainstorm, and then in one second that rain turned into snow and it wasn’t just snow, it was a blizzard, a total white out. I couldn’t see. Nothing. Nada. I couldn’t pull over the car because I had no idea where the road was and where the shoulder was. So I just slowed and steered blind over to my right and then stopped. And I got my sleeping bag out of my stuff and my pillow and put on my down jacket and a hat and gloves and I got into the backseat and climbed in and listened to the screaming wind and the snow and the reports on the radio every half hour demanding that I get off the road,. Well that was kind of a moot point by then. I wasn’t going anywhere. I knew enough not to run the heat all night—I understood the concept of exhaust fumes and didn’t want to die in the car. I think I must have cracked a window, but I really can’t remember that part since it would have just frozen over anyway.

    I know I slept because I the next thing remember is being woken up the next morning by this pimply kid from Kentucky with a quite a drawl who tapped on my windshield and said, “I’m going to rescue you!” He said he was going to guide me to a disaster relief center in Dayton, Ohio—but before he led me to the high school—he driving in front with his giant SUV and me in my driveaway car sliding along behind him–he told me his name was Slick and he wanted to have sex with him. He wasn’t threatening or dangerous; he was just a horny boy who was very excited to have rescued a 21 year old stacked blond woman traveling alone for his very first rescue. He seemed to think I would want to have sex with him, that somehow it would add to the great excitement of the storm. But I turned him down and good naturedly, he led me to the disaster relief center.

    I was the first person to arrive, as I recall, but pretty soon, the truckers started to arrive. I was in that disaster relief center for five days—the first to arrive and the last to leave—because I was heading west and everyone was heading east or north or south. I was the only woman—a young woman at that with a few hundred truckers, men who I remember to be the most kind, gentlemanly, fun-loving guys. We played hours and hours of poker and watched movies in the high school gymnasium and ate high school cafeteria food in the high school cafeteria served by real high school cafeteria ladies with white lace up shoes, white uniforms and hair nets, who came in just to feed us. The whole thing was a party—a really fun party…and eventually, when they told me I-70 through Kansas was finally clear and I could pack up and head on to Colorado, I felt kind of sad that the whole party was over.

    • Hazel says

      Laura,
      A fun, scary read! You took us right into the heart of that storm and out the other side. What an adventure! I felt myself holding onto the seat beside you as I peered intently out the window. It is very cold here in New Mexico this morning so it is easy to imagine you in that big old car getting colder and colder.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Karla says

      I loved the pacing in this story, backstory about how you came to be on that road in that driveaway car, and how the tension rises and falls in just the right moments. Slick is a very compelling character, and so was the group of truckers– who, as you described them, did not fit my stereotyped beliefs. I hope you’re writing this as part of your memoir.

    • Wendy says

      Laura, I love this story! It had so many great details. It was one of those stories where I wanted to take notes and say, “Can you now tell me about this? Can I hear more about that?” I really enjoyed this story.

    • Ilana says

      How cool is that? Great story. I really enjoyed it because your descriptions made me feel like I was really there. Ilana

    • beverly Boyd says

      Laura.
      You brought back memories of some of my many cross country trips. If I had to choose I’d rather share the road with long haul truckers than many of the other drivers on the road.

    • Janet says

      I read this a few days ago. It really stuck with me. First, the beginning and the vivid portrayal of being 21 and hitting the road. And then your stay at the relief center where you described the men as “men who I remember to be the most kind, gentlemanly, fun-loving guys” and also the “real high school cafeteria ladies with white lace up shoes” was very memorable.
      What happened next?

  5. Shellie T. says

    Riiiiiip! “Oh crud, there goes the tent!” blowing over it tore open the top and the strap remained on the truck where it was tied to. The whistles of the wind came rushing through the cracks of the mountains, so strong you could hear it come in waves.

    “Here comes another one. Get ahold of the tent it’s going to roll right on down the hill.”

    The stakes came out when the top ripped from the ties, and we had to catch it and retie it somehow, and stake it down this time deeper in the dirt.

    It rained earlier while we were trying to fish in our boats, and softened the ground, but the wind was so strong it dried the ground again. We all grabbed what hammers we had and turned the stakes out and drove them down as far as they’d go, then found a way with duct tape to attach the top to the truck again.

    We had to ask permission from the Forest Rangers to park our truck on the campground itself just to have something to tie the tent down to, as the wind kept getting stronger and stronger.

    This went on through the night and kept me up all hours listening to the flapping of the tent walls. Fah…..LAP! The tent came in towards my cot and smacked my sleeping blanket and then….. Ker…WAP! It blew out with a noise that made me jump each time, as I never got used to its loud sound.

    During the afternoons when it was too windy to be out fishing on the lake we all bundled up in the game tent, it was smaller and the wind hadn’t torn it yet, we played Pictionary and Scattergories till nightfall. The tent we played games in would blow in and out as my tent I slept in did at night, but we could handle this during the day.

    I didn’t think the rush sound of the winds gusting through the valleys would ever stop that camp-out, as it went on for five days and nights. I’ve never experienced winds that high for such duration since. Neither have our tents, for that matter!
    ——————————————————————————————

    OH Mom, we had soooo much fun camping this year! We didn’t catch much fish, but we had fun trying anyway, it kept raining on us in the morning hours. We took out so many treats and coffee out on the boats and there was a rough start to that.

    The boys just took the boats to dock and came back to pitch the tents, and the Ranger came and told us that one of the boats sank at the dock. Oh Crud! They ran down and got it out thanks for a quick thinking park ranger who’d seen it through the store window. They salvaged it and the next morning we got to drive it into Mammoth and find a boat repair man to fix it. We had pizza in a nearby restaurant.

    We drove all over and saw different lakes and ponds going up Mammoth Mountain. We retrieved our boat and went back and got some fishing in before the wind came up, and we used one tent to play games in. We sat on ice chests and parked our game table in between and had so much fun playing Scattergories with Darrel making up his own words!

    One night, we had a visit from a bear, trying to get into our snack trunk, and he got ahold of a marshmallow bag and got scared off, and that bear took that bag up the hill and it was spread out on a rock, like he sat down to eat and had to leave it behind. It was hilarious, when we found it in the morning. Darrel fixed that old army trunk up and locked it for the next night and that bear came back for seconds, and all he could do was toss the trunk over and over again making an interesting looking trail from it.

    The wind was crazy and tore our tent, but we had the time of our lives with all the other incidents, including losing a tire on the boat trailer on the way up and having to back track and hour to get a new tire, but we all laughed and had a great time, I can hardly wait till the next camping trip.

    • Karla says

      I haven’t camped since college and I still have no desire to do so, but I loved the fun behind the writing of these pieces. I think it takes some skill to be able to vividly convey the scariness of bad weather inside a tent and the joy of connection that was shared in that experience. Thank you!

    • Hazel says

      Weather certainly can play the biggest part in a camp-out and you have captured it well in these two stories. You have also shown us a family that sticks together and laughs together; a rare thing in this time. Thank you for sharing.

    • Wendy says

      Shellie, both accounts felt so real to me and were so full of detail. I really felt invited into your world. Thank you.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Shellie
      What great details you used. I especially liked the very audible “Fah…LAP! and “Ker…WAP of the tent flaps in the wind. You did a great job, too, with the second part of the prompt: a lot of action and the weather in the background.

  6. Hazel says

    The Bible study was over. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had retired back into the canister of film the Elder of The Church had brought with him to show to our family that evening. We children had sat down at the table to have a drink of Ovalteen before being sent to bed. The adults remained to discuss what they had just seen on the screen. We scrambled upstairs, undressed quickly and pulled on our pajamas. Through the register that was directly over the wood stove in the livingroom we could hear the voices of Mom, Dad, the Church Elder and Aunt Sylvia. As we began to nod off the voices changed from murmurs of voices to the hooves of horses and the winter storm picked up and began to blast rivers of rain across the roof and whip the limbs of the old cherry tree on the end of the gable. The din doubled; I was trying to run to get out of the way of those terrible Horsemen on those terrible horses determined to destroy everything and everybody. The roar was terrible. I heard footsteps; they were coming for me; I was screaming . . . it was Mother. She put her arms around me and shushed me. I was nine years old. I was brave. I told her I was okay. She left turning off the light. There I was, shivering under the covers of the double bed, my little three year old sister sound asleep on the other side that was pushed up against the wall so she wouldn’t roll out. It was a long night, the storm lulled, I would snooze off; the storm blustered and I awakened. The limbs of the cherry tree continued to whip the house and the rain tapped out its own rhythm on the window before adding water to the already soggy soil. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse chased me all that winter and most of the next three winters on those miserable Western Oregon winter nights. I hated that religion for bringing them to me.
    *************************
    Winter Hawk

    It’s wet, prey hides, safe and warm
    far away from cold and harm

    while the hungry Hawk searches
    screes and watches from perches

    that seem too flimsy to hold
    his bulk; a post, grey, so old

    and rotten, a wire too thin,
    a bare bush, a narrow limb

    high upon a naked oak.
    Alone in his sodden cloak

    wet feathers stuck together
    drenched by inclement weather

    the scraggly Hawk looks on,
    at moldy grass and bleak pond

    emptiness, where nothing stirs.
    Desolate, his stomach hurts.

    How long until ample spring
    brings him every filling thing?

    Dreams are filled with luscious mouse.
    When’ll they start to move about?

    Hawk, bedraggled now, in spring
    most certainly, will be King.

    • Karla says

      Lovely descriptions in the first piece and I especially liked the seamless interweaving of the overheard adult conversation and the dream. In the second piece, I think your connections with creatures and nature is front and center. Really enjoyed both.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Hazel,
      I loved your details of the storm. I especially liked “The four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had retired back into the canister of film…”

      In the second piece you do such a good job with the Hawk, hungry, in search of a “filling thing” but would be king in the spring.

    • Janet says

      Hazel,
      The description in your story is so vivid. I can feel that I am right there. “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had retired back into the canister of film the Elder of The Church had brought with him to show to our family that evening. We children had sat down at the table to have a drink of Ovalteen before being sent to bed. The adults remained to discuss what they had just seen on the screen.”

    • Shellie says

      That took me straight back to my childhood too. Especially the horsemen coming alive in the dream. I was right there with you and still remember my own experience with that film from the canister, I enjoyed reading these two.

  7. Cynthia Close says

    A LOUD DAY ON THE LAKE

    I’d been on a roll, writing, and with the temperature in single digits the past two days, Ethel and I had avoided our usual long morning walk along the lake. Today knife-like wedges of sun severed the morning frost; the thermometer hovered above 20 so it seemed like a good time to venture out. The snow cover was thin, but enough to coat the sheets of ice beneath and give us both some traction.

    We headed down to the lake. The wind had picked up putting an extra bite into that 20-degree temperature. It wasn’t the first time I was thankful I spent, what at the time seemed an exorbitant price for my bright red Canada Goose parka. That Arctic Expedition insignia on the front pocket looks so authentic. I’d been stopped a few times and asked how it was being there, in the Arctic. With this kind of bone cracking cold, who needs to lie about having been on a polar expedition?

    As we made our way along the familiar path the incessant beating of the surf from the wind churned lake was deafening. The frequent gusts were heartless as they swept across our path like a Mahler symphony, through the trees in the woods on the opposite side. The sun was shining; there was a dissonance between the fury of the sound and the seductive sunlight but Ethel and I soldiered on.

    It was mid day in mid week and no one else was there, not even the die hard runners who jog year round with cleats on their running shoes. I felt like a true Vermonter, energized by the cold and challenged by the roaring ferocity of unfettered nature that blocked out any human sounds, like the jets that occasionally passed over, or the distant whine of a police siren. We came to our usual stopping point – just before Waterfront Park, and turned back. Ethel immediately picked up her pace and started tugging on the leash. She knew we were headed home.

    Starting life over again – like a computer reboot – has always energized me. I’ve done it enough times to know I must be pre-programmed to do something dramatic every few years to keep the creative juices flowing and to remind me life is worth living. There is something virginal, clean, about starting over from scratch and if you are flat broke, that can certainly revive an entrepreneurial spirit. For a former city girl, living in a place like Vermont, presents a whole new set of challenges.

    • says

      Cynthia, Welcome to the Roadmap blog! Sorry it took me awhile to approve your comment–I’ve been away from my computer today. I loved this piece and the whole concept of starting over from scratch. I felt inspired–and the vivid bite of the cold you described was certainly a big part of my ability to step right into your story.

      • Cynthia Close says

        Laura, A friend and fellow writer turned me on to your site. You are so supportive and encouraging. I am pleased to have found you.

    • Hazel says

      Cynthia,
      Oooo! I am freezing! you have certainly painted a realistically cold picture of your environment. But your warmth and love of life have also come through like a fire in the fireplace and a cup of hot chocolate waiting for your return. Thank you for sharing and welcome.

  8. Fran Stekoll says

    Sunday Morning Snowstorm. 1940, 96 Colby St, Rochester, New York. I was six years old,I had a terrible cold. Mom and Dad told me to stay inside our warm three story home as they’d be right back.
    I had on my flannel PJ’s and warm furry slippers. I heard the Sunday Paper
    thud as it was thrown on our big front porch. The radio was on and Mr. La
    Guardia was about to read the Sunday Funnies on the radio. I opened the
    large wooden front door, tiptoed out to retrieve the paper when a huge gust
    of wind and snow blew the door closed.
    I was locked out, with a cold in the cold.
    I cradled the paper, ran down the steps to the driveway, broke the window
    slid down the coal shoot, cutting my arm on the glass. I ran up the basement
    steps covered with soot and blood.
    Mom and Dad arrived home . The next door neighbor called and told them
    what she saw.
    I didn’t get a spanking.
    Wondered to this day why they’d left me alone at that age in the first place.

    • Hazel says

      Fran,
      “when a huge gust of wind and snow blew the door closed” right there we have the whole situation, you caught in the snowstorm.
      Liked your line, “with a cold in the cold.” Almost said it all. lol

      Yeah, remembering when neighbor’s used to report to parents what their kids did.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Diana says

      Fran,
      I caught my breath when the “wind and snow blew the door closed” Your story took me back to a time when neighbors would keep an eye on the neighborhood kids.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Fran,
      I too was worried about you locked out in the cold. I know those Rochester “lake effect” winters.

      I also enjoyed the “old timey” detail of settling down to listen to Mr LaGuardia read the sunday funnies on the radio!

  9. Wendy says

    When I was a teenager, the sun was important to me. I had to have a tan. This was during the Zonker Harris era of our culture, where we slathered baby oil on our skin to get a better tan, where I often smelled of Bain de Soleil, where it felt like my spirits rose or sank depending on whether it was a sunny day, and whether I could spend the carefully allotted amount of time on each side out on the chaise longue or on a towel on the beach every day. When I was a teenager, I did not feel that I could possibly have a chance to be beautiful unless I had a deep tan.

    #2:

    When I was young, I took piano lessons. My teacher, Mary Bigler, smelled of talcum powder and when she raised her arm to make a point, I could see that she had pinned her dress together with a safety pin.

    Mrs. Bigler also sold World Book encyclopedias. They came to our house in several boxes, stacks of heavy books in their white lacquered bindings with gold gilt pages. I was entranced. I would close my eyes and pick one of the books at random, open the book at a mystery page, and start reading.

    I told my sister I was going to start a project. I was going to write a paper on people who became famous after they died. I would start with Jesus, work my way through some of the composers that Mrs. Bigler had discussed with me, and Anne Frank would also be part of the mix.

    My sister rolled her eyes. She looked out the window. It was a beautiful summer day in that mythical land outside our home. She tried to ignore me while I picked up one of my father’s yellow legal pads and started preparing my outline.

    • Laura Davis says

      Wendy,

      I adored more than anything the safety pin that appeared under Mrs. Bigler’s dress. That’s the kind of quirky unusual detail that totally grabs my attention and creates a memorable character.

      I grew up in the era of white girls tanning–so I could totally relate to piece #1.

    • Karla says

      Wendy, I love the similarity between your pieces in that they were both lengthy and ambitious projects– in the first one, a vulnerable teen working towards the standard of beauty at the time, the second, a girl with an authentic zest for learning, writing a book as big as the encyclopedias she lovingly poured over. The similarity in the weather in both pieces made these parallel as well. I thought this was a very creative response to the prompt– one of the things I like best about this site is how different people interpret the same “task.” Thank you!

    • Hazel says

      Wendy,
      I loved that you wrote, “the sun was important to me.” (I have always been a sun worshiper. I would even volunteer to weed the garden just to be in the sun.) And, “my spirits rose or sank depending on whether it was a sunny day, and whether I could spend the carefully allotted amount of time on each side out on the chaise longue or on a towel on the beach every day.” In your second piece I was so pleased to read, “It was a beautiful summer day in that mythical land outside our home.” Great detail in both pieces.

      Thank you for sharing.

  10. Laura Davis says

    CAN YOU HELP ME WITH FIVE MINUTES OF YOUR TIME RIGHT NOW?

    I just learned about a contest for the ten best blogs for writers on the web and I’d love to enter The Writer’s Journey Roadmap in the contest–and hopefully win!

    If you benefit from my Writer’s Journey Roadmap and enjoy the prompts I send out each week, could you take a moment to nominate my site for this contest?

    Unfortunately, the deadline is today, so you’d need to do it right now.

    All you have to do is:

    1. Go to this website:

    http://writetodone.com/favorite-writing-blog-8th-annual-top-10-blogs-for-writers-contest-2013/

    2. Nominate “The Writer’s Journey Roadmap” in the comment section.

    3. Include the web address of the blog: http://www.lauradavis.net/roadmap

    4. Explain why you think the blog is worthy of winning this year’s award.

    Thank you for taking this time to spread the word!

    P.S. The nominations are now closed–thanks for your support. If you didn’t get to participate, but would like to take a moment to write a few sentences about the value of The Writer’s Journey Roadmap in your life, I’d love that. I’m in the process of rebranding this website and including some of your endorsements of the Roadmap and its community would be great. You can email your comments to me at:
    lauradavis@lauradavis.net

  11. Mary Lasher says

    Every year, my Dad would be excited for the NY Giants season to start. He had two season tickets, and we each got to spend a Sunday with my Dad going to the game. I’m not sure how it happened but I always seem to get the game that was in December. I would bundle up in a heavy jacket, over a sweater and jeans with thermal underwear underneath and a pair of winter boots, and a set of matching scarf, hat and gloves. Blue and red, the NY Giants colors. I could barely move under all the layers of clothes and could feel drops of sweat pour down my back during the thirty-minute car ride to the stadium. The air was crisp with an edge to it under the bright blue sky. Very deceiving. We would climb the cement staircase up and up passing rows of excited and sometimes too exuberant fans until we reach our seats in the nose-bleed section. High enough so that there was no protection from the winter wind that blew across the plains of the NJ Meadowlands. It always seemed at the time of the kickoff was when the sun would slip down towards the horizon, and the temperature would drop quickly. I would lose concentration on the game and focus only on keeping warm and being distracted by my nose running and my eyes stinging. At half-time, my Dad would make the trek to buy me a hot chocolate which was impossible to drink with my bulky gloves. My Dad and his seat-mate buddy he just met on the opposite side of him would sip out of the flask he had smuggled in my backpack underneath the squished ham sandwiches my mom made for us that morning. The sandwiches will be left uneaten because it was way too cold to bother with food. Towards the end of the game, the sun was gone and the bright white stadium lights shined down on us to hide the sky’s darkness creating the illusion that there was plenty of day left. Plenty of time to keep playing football. I would silently start begging my dad to leave because I could no longer feel my toes, but I knew that we were staying to the bitter end. As I walk to the car I would not be able to feel my legs from the knees down. I would be miserable all the while being excited to spend a whole day with my father.

    • Diana says

      Mary,
      I love the story of father and daughter bonding at a very cold football game. Your story reminded me of the football games I would attend with my dad.

    • Hazel says

      Diana,
      Great detail in this story! As the story goes on you focus more and more on how cold you are; all else out of focus. I really liked the lines, “the sun was gone and the bright white stadium lights shined down on us to hide the sky’s darkness creating the illusion that there was plenty of day left. Plenty of time to keep playing football.” Football fans are NUTS! I am one of them but from the comfort of my big chair in the living room with plenty of hot chocolate and munchies. I only went to one game in my life and that was at college. I remember it as being just as you described.

      Nice description of father/daughter time and how willing you were to be cold just to be with him.

      Thank you for sharing.

  12. Diana says

    The sun returns hot and angry, like she’s mad at us for leaving for the winter. Never mind it was she that left us. Even though she’s so mad, I’m glad she’s back because her return means freedom. The long days mean liberation from cantankerous old Miss Blount and her demonic algebra equations. Daddy says a good long kiss from a handsome single fella would go a long ways toward fixing her temperament. That was just about the grossest thing I ever heard and brought an image to whirling in my brain that I could live without.

    When the steam starts to rise off of the swamps means no Church Tent Revivals.
    After the divorce last year, Mama took up with a no good, white trash truck driver. Beer made him mean and ugly. I just couldn’t abide by that, so I moved it with Daddy and my grandmother, Nanny. Nanny being a hard shell Southern Baptist believes in religious church going and the more the better. So she’s there every time the church doors are open, dragging me along with her. Sometimes I’m not sure which is worse; hard drinkers or Hard shells.

    Lord, those revival preachers can go on and on, urging the lost souls to the alter to make a public profession of faith. They preach with us humming endless refrains of “Just As I Am” until somebody comes forward to be saved. I figure I’ve been saved about 17 times; going forward and confessing my sins and accepting the Lord so we could all go home. I think those revival preachers should preach like Jesus and be short and to the point. During the summer I guess church folk figure the cook stove heat of those Revival tents aren’t much of a selling point for the Kingdom.

    The season of no school and no revivals also means freedom from shoes. It’s the one time of year when going without shoes isn’t rude or a sign of poor upbringing. I run all summer barefooted, shoes seeming too cumbersome and not.

    The days rise early and intense, being fit for nothing but cotton and mosquitoes. By noon, the town takes on an eerie quiet, anything with sense looking for a reprieve from the relentless swelter. No flies buzz, birds sit quiet in the trees, even the wings of crickets still. Proper ladies dab face powder against their summer “glow” and shelter in beauty parlors and Jr. League luncheons. The humming window air conditioners sing the town to sleep.

    While the town sleeps, my best friend Alice and I meet at the stop light and walk down the highway to Mr. Ellis’s grocery store. Being careful to keep our shoeless feet on the dirt shoulder, we watch hot ghost dance on the blacktop. Cars buzz by and the logging trucks kick up a tropical breeze. We hold up our arms to give full vent to our sweating bodies as they go by. We make a game of crossing the highway to Mr. Ellis’s. Pretending to be Indian Firewalkers, we sprint across before our feet blister.

    As we open the store’s door, a bell gives a gentle warning tinkle to Mr. Ellis in the back room.

    “Ya’ll close that door to. You trying to cool the whole parish?” He peeks out from the stock room, his eyes smiling and we know he is more teasing than chastising.

    We hand him our Diet Dr. Peppers and Butterfinger candy bars. With a loud snap, he opens the bottles for us.

    “That’s 75 cents girls”

    “Bye Mr. Ellis” We take our coke and candy bar. We sit on the store’s porch swing and drag the frosty bottle over our foreheads and across our cheeks. We take turns rolling the bottle across the back of each other’s neck, holding our hair up high. The first sip cools all the way down. We drink the rest, racing against the last swigs getting warm in the bottom of the bottle. The Butterfingers have a three bite melting limit.

    “Wanna go play cards?” I ask.

    “Naw”, says Alice, “I’m sick to death of cards”

    “Wanna go to the pond”

    “Naw. The pond’s got too warm”

    “Wanna build a fire and roast marshmallows?”

    We bust up laughing at ourselves.

    “Y’all better not be cuttin up out there”, yells Mr. Ellis from inside.

    • Hazel says

      What a wonderful story, so full of memories and great descriptions that put us right into the middle of this small town somewhere in the South. Liked this description, “Pretending to be Indian Firewalkers, we sprint across before our feet blister.” and the conversations with “y’all.”

      Very good read. Thank you for sharing.

    • Laura Davis says

      I love the way you capture the place, the era, and the weather. I’m really enjoying these pieces. You could see how much adding weather brings us, as readers, right into the story. My favorite part of your piece was this. I just loved the specificity:

      “Bye Mr. Ellis” We take our coke and candy bar. We sit on the store’s porch swing and drag the frosty bottle over our foreheads and across our cheeks. We take turns rolling the bottle across the back of each other’s neck, holding our hair up high. The first sip cools all the way down. We drink the rest, racing against the last swigs getting warm in the bottom of the bottle. The Butterfingers have a three bite melting limit.”

    • Karla says

      Such a captivating story and such beautiful writing in this piece. Your opening line really grabbed me, and I consumed the entire story like a fine chocolate.

  13. beverly Boyd says

    It was so hot! Dickie and Juny Page and I sat melting in the sand box fanning ourselves with homemade fans and telling silly stories like Pat and Mike jokes and moron jokes and blonde jokes. We were a little cooler there in the shade of the barn. When Daddy asked, “Would you like to go swimming at the fairgrounds?” we were off in a flash to get into our bathing suits. There was a man made lake there that they called the reservoir where we were allowed to swim and fish, so we dug up some worms while Daddy put fishing poles in the car.

    We fished for a while, sitting on pilings at the side of the lake, and caught a few sunfish. Farther out there were bass kissing the surface. Telling us to stay right there where he could see us, Daddy waded a few feet out in the lake with his casting rod to try for some bass. We did this often and Daddy usually cast out at least ten times. On that day he made only two casts. He suddenly shouted to us to get in the car.

    “Why?”. we asked to know. We hadn’t even been swimming yet.
    “Because I said so!” he yelled and reeled in the line as fast as he could. Daddy hardly ever said, “Because I said so.” So we knew that for some reason he really wanted us to get in the car.

    We made a run for it with Daddy close behind. It had started to rain. We tumbled into the car and shut the doors just in time as hail the size of ping-pong balls fell all around us. Our 1941 Chevy was like a Kettle Drum and we were inside of it. For us, it was so much fun, a real adventure. Spookie, our absolutely black Cocker Spaniel was frantic. He wanted to get out of this noisy thing he didn’t understand. He pawed at the windows and climbed back and forth from the front and back seat. Finally, Daddy caught him and held him against his chest and calmed him down.

    At last the Hailing stopped. It was only ten minutes, but it seemed much longer. When it was safe Daddy let us open the door. The hail almost covered the ground. We put some of it in the fish pail. Daddy said it would probably melt or at least be much smaller by the time we got home.

    *******************
    Back at home the house and the church next-door was dripping all over the upstairs from rain that had followed the hail in town.
    Daddy was right. The hail had melted.

    The only hail left from the storm in town was in piles that rolled together in the gutters.

    The next few days all the adults talked about was their hailstorm stories.

    Daddy of course had his story of seeing rain approaching from the other end of the lake when he noticed a heavy mist from the rain hitting the water. He knew it had to be hail to make so much splashing.

    We had our story to tell, too, about being stuck in the noisy car and Spookie being so scared.

    The nearby greenhouse was a mess of broken windows, but Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t let us go and look at it.

    Daddy checked our garden told Mommy he thought we would have a small harvest, but luckily there was still time to replant some things.

    One day Daddy walked with us down to a small grocery store where they had a hailstone the size of a grapefruit on display. He was sure it must be an exaggeration, but there it was in the small freezer along with the Eskimo pies and orange popcicles. Sure enough! A hailstone as big as a grapefruit.

    Most days the customers in the store talked about important things, like the president, D-Day and the war. I didn’t know much about the war except Uncle Bob and Uncle Dick were in it and I worried about them every time we had an air raid. As I huddled under the heavy dining room table with Mommy and Dickie, I worried about Daddy, too. He was an air raid warden and had to go out and make sure everybody had their lights out so the enemy planes wouldn’t be able to see the town.

    That day they were excited about the Liberation of Guam and the hailstorm. One man said, “I seed a lotta hail in my day, but I ne’er seed a hailstone as big as a grapefruit. Yes, Siree! As big as a grapefruit!”.

    The roofers were the busiest people in town and we had to wait our turn so Daddy went up on the roof and swabbed on 187 temporary tar patches and more on the church next door to keep the rain out until the roofers could get to ours. Daddy was so brave up there on the ladder! He helped the roofers get the asphalt shingles up on the roof by tieing the packages on a rope and hoisting them up. The roofers didn’t want him on the roof. It was about ‘lible’ or something and they were afraid he might fall off.

    By the end of summer the roofs were fixed and the town was back to normal things. Even the Fair and the last cattle auction were over. I bet everyone who was there that day always remembered hail the size of ping-pong balls and the one in the grocer’s freezer as big as a grapefruit.

    • Hazel says

      These two stories are so very well written. Your first two sentences drug me right into the sandbox with the “melting” Dixie, June and you. Then when your Dad “shouted” to everyone to “get to the car” it could have been for any number of reasons and then the “hail.”
      What a story. And, the second story of the fixing up of the town, and the stories of the storm. Until, “By the end of summer the roofs were fixed and the town was back to normal things.”

      Good writing all the way through. Thank you for sharing.

    • Laura Davis says

      Beverly, as always, you evoked an era from the past so magnificently! I love the part about Bible. I had me laughing out loud. You also did an incredible job with the child’s point of view. I particularly loved this:

      “Most days the customers in the store talked about important things, like the president, D-Day and the war. I didn’t know much about the war except Uncle Bob and Uncle Dick were in it and I worried about them every time we had an air raid. As I huddled under the heavy dining room table with Mommy and Dickie, I worried about Daddy, too. He was an air raid warden and had to go out and make sure everybody had their lights out so the enemy planes wouldn’t be able to see the town.

      That day they were excited about the Liberation of Guam and the hailstorm. One man said, “I seed a lotta hail in my day, but I ne’er seed a hailstone as big as a grapefruit. Yes, Siree! As big as a grapefruit!”.”

      • beverly Boyd says

        Thank you Laura, I hoped I had succeeded in the child’s view point. I hope that it also was in the child’s voice. It actually was the second version. The first was just to dry and didn’t have a hook. So I’m happy you thought I did a good job (did you actually say incredible?) with the child’s point of view.
        The ‘libel’ reference was actually a child’s misunderstanding of liable. I realized it rhymed with bible and figured both would work. If you laughed, I guess it did.

    • Karla says

      Such an enjoyable read, especially the characters and the description of the hailstorm. I did not expect that it was a hailstorm when Daddy ordered the kids into the car, and that was a delightful twist.

  14. Diana says

    Beverly,
    I love your weather story. I was right in the moment when the hail rained down on the car and I laughed at the grapefruit hailstone in the grocer’s freezer.

  15. Diana says

    Sullen clouds move in dark and thunderous, stalking towards the Sun, challenging her authority. Not about to let her rule the summer sky, they come in like a street gang all puff and swagger. Jealousy fuels this rivalry as lightning bolts flare across the sky issuing the challenge to a dual.

    Alice and I quicken our pace towards home. A distant grumble rolls across the sky in warning. We count; one – one thousand, two-one thousand, three -one thousand, then comes the lightning, setting our arm hairs on end. With the storm charging fast, I have to make my way across the steel railroad trestle to home. At the trestle edge I wait for the next crash of thunder and count one-one thousand, two-one thousand. The next stream of lightning blinds me like the flash bulbs on Daddy’s Polaroid camera. The storm is moving fast. I can’t hesitate. Should the bridge become electrified with me on it would be certain death. Racing against annihilation, I sprint across, impervious to the splintery wood planks and knobby steel bolts to the bottoms of my feet.

    Safe on my front porch, I watch the summer Titans battle. The clouds roil in, dominating the Sun. She seems to have relinquished her power, giving the clouds momentary rule. The sky explodes in celebration with firecracker blasts across the sky and endless shouts of thunder. Rain pours down like champagne from the sky.

    I listen to the rain marching on Ms. Bell’s tin roof next door. A Robin Red breast flits onto the porch taking audience with me and listening to the rain beat staccato in the trees. Waterfalls tumble from the rain gutters. The air smells earthy and alive.

    I leave the safety of the porch and join in the celebration. Sticking my tongue out, I close my eyes and catch the rain on my tongue. I spin and twirl, soaking my skin and clothes, rejoicing in Thunder’s victory.

    • Laura Davis says

      I love the rain pouring down like champagne. Also the way the girl runs out and joins the storm fully at the end. Bravo!

    • Hazel says

      Diana,
      Your first line grabbed me and I was with you all the way through. I was holding my breath when you were at the steel railroad trestle. Your many descriptive phrases were stunning, ” The sky explodes in celebration.” Then your celebration, ” I spin and twirl, soaking my skin and clothes, rejoicing in Thunder’s victory.” Just beautiful!

      Thank you for sharing.

    • beverly Boyd says

      the second paragraph really grabbed me. The thunder and lightning and you having to cross the steel trestle. You had me on the edge of my seat.

      Then the last paragraph when you “join the celebration” spin, twirl and catch rain on you tongue.

      Good Job!

  16. Sheila McGinley says

    The radio predicted a small snowstorm, to be landing in New York City that night. I had an urgently needed therapist appointment on the edge of the city, and my not so trusty gold VW Rabbit to get there, and then back. to Manhattan and home. I needed to go, suffering as I was from being a lonely and disoriented stranger in a city 3000 miles from my home. I was determined.

    It was only my first year in New York City and I did not know very much about snow, but a shiver ran up my spine as the sky turned dark and began to close in on us, causing all of us driving on the highway to slow. Then the snow began to fall. And fall. And fall. We were having a blizzard.

    I had learned how to drive in the snow that winter and knew that it was best to slow down and try to avoid braking, downshifting instead. But the snow fell thick and swiftly until we were all nearly at a standstill. I was perhaps 600 yards from my exit and about a mile from her office, the appointment 20 minutes away. I could make it, I was sure. My hands were shaking slightly from the anxiety that kept overtaking me, the fear of being alone, of failing, of being too far away from all that was safe. I needed to make it through this storm, I would.

    I didn’t notice the smoke at first. It was a small tendril, like a newly sprouted plant, lost in the thick, condensed flakes of snow. But it wasn’t long before smoke began to seep in from under the dashboard, through the heater system, around the edges of the hood. I tensed up all over: it seemed that my car was on fire. In the 20 degree weather, with the snow making it nearly impossible to see, I pulled the car to the shoulder. I grabbed my down coat and my purse and stepped out of the car, a thankful prayer whispered for the new boots I had just purchased. I quickly locked it and then, turning my back on it, waved wildly for a ride. A young man in a sports car stopped and asked how far I needed to go. I pointed ahead and he told me to get in, he was heading for home about a mile away. We made it to the exit with a sigh of relief, but we were soon flying down a snow-filled hill like a child does in a sled, our sled a deadly weapon, sliding and turning, then righting ourselves again as we careened down the hill. To our left and right, in front of us and behind, cars crashed into each other, and yet we improbably made it through and slowed as we entered the flatbottomed main road, slightly safer. A half hour later we had covered the mile trip and I was dropped at my therapist’s office, frozen to the bone.

    The office was warm and smelled of a fresh pot of tea. I felt the peace and gratitude of a stranger who had been lost and wandering for years, a prodigal child come home. My story, my loneliness and fear seemed to pour out of me as the snow poured down outside. An unearthly silence had ascended: the mighty New York City was on its knees, all traffic stopped, all footsteps muffled, nothing to keep us from feeling that no one existed in the world but the two of us. And suddenly I wanted to tell her everything, to curl up here in a blanket and never go out again.

    The session ended, though, and the therapist handed me the train schedule, offering to give me a ride the half mile to the station as she was closing up and going home. I looked out of the window and was surprised to see feet of snow piled everywhere, covering cars and hydrants, doorsteps and windowsills. I pulled my coat close around me. I needed to go.

    When I was dropped off, I clambored aboard the one train at the station, the one labelled “Manhattan” on the front. When he sauntered down the aisle to collect my fare and stamp a hole in my ticket, the conducter let the three other passengers and I know that the tracks were quickly filling up despite their best efforts to shovel, and that we were the very last train anywhere in the city to be heading home. We have no idea, he said, if we can make it even 100 feet, much less all of the way to Manhattan. A tiredness came over me, and a heaviness. I didn’t want to try so hard anymore. I wanted to go home to California, to warmth and sunshine, to running easily to my car with nothing but a sweater. I was done with how hard this was. I wanted home. I looked out the window and saw darkness and snowpiles everywhere. This looked grim. I decided that my new home, my tiny studio apartment on a beautiful tree-lined Upper Westside street, was where safety was for now, where peace was waiting. We just had to make it; we must.

    The conductors stopped every five minutes to shovel as we crept slowly down the tracks. An hour passed, then two. Finally, we entered the long tunnel that shoveled hundreds of trains through the bowels of New York City, but this time the tunnels were empty, the stations empty, snow sifting down all around us, falling from the heat vents on the streets. The train came to a sudden halt across from the underground subway entrance and the conductor shouted at us to run. “Last subway in all of Manhattan!” he yelled. Hope you all are goin’ uptown! One stop, 20 blocks up, and then you walk!”

    It was freezing in the station, and slippery, but no one noticed. We all began to run. We could see the windows of the subway up ahead, dirty and scratched with yellow light shining through the graffiti. I thought it was the most beautiful thing i had ever seen. I reached in my pocket for cash to feed the turnstile. Nothing. My money had slipped from my pockets and I was penniless in a snowbound Manhattan. I did not hesitate, but turned and held out my hand to those behind me. “Please,” I said, “I don’t have even a dime. Please, help me home.” People were making a mad dash for the train, barely looking at me, yet with that incredible solidarity that was New York in a crisis, they all reached in their pockets and threw coins in my palm. In a moment I had enough for the turnstile; 30 seconds later I had enough to buy a take-out cup of hot soup at the corner diner near my apartment. Enough for a corn muffin followed closely behind. I closed my hand around the money, sidled through the turnstile and slid onto the train as the doors closed. “Last train!” the conductor shouted, “Say your prayers that we make it! Its going to be a wild ride!”

    As the lights began to flicker and dim, the train took off in a mad dash, trying to make it 25 more blocks uptown before the system died. We watched the stations fly past us, in darkness and light as the electricity sputtered. We reached Lincoln Center and it screeched to a halt, the doors moaning open. “Go!” the conductor shouted, getting off ahead of us. “Run! The lights are going!” We all headed for the stairs, staying close together so that we would not fall off of the platforms when the lights went out. We reached the stairs and found them slippery with melted snow, holding on to each other to get up. These strangers who had seemed distant and unfriendly to my California spirit now seemed like my long lost friends as they kept saving me from falling, telling me to hold on.

    When I reached the street, the snow was over three feet high. There were no buses running, no cabs, no one on the road. We all walked along the road because the sidewalks were too deep in snow. Even though the snow had warmed the air, I was shivering. It had been a harrowing journey but I had forgotten my anxiety in the rush towards home. Instead of feeling strange and alone in this huge city, I found myself wanting to kiss the windows of each open store and restaurant. Seven blocks, seven hard blocks, and I would turn the corner home. I began to walk.

    Now I had the chance to see how beautiful the city was in it’s quiet, the snow covering all of the dirt and grime, making me feel as if my own life had been washed clean. Snow hung from trees and from building ledges, covered the sidewalks and the cars. I stopped for a moment, and stared. I loved this overwhelming, harsh, loud and pushy city. In the quiet of the snowfall, I stared at it’s underbelly and saw in my mind the soft belly of my kitty as she lay on her back and stared up at me, inviting me at last to rub her tummy. The underbelly of danger was gone and peace had come instead.

    After a moment, the cold kept me moving and I saw my corner ahead. The others trudging with me were making jokes, and we were helping each other keep from falling. “You’re a New Yorker now!” said the man who had helped me up the stairs. “You’re one of us!”. I waved goodbye and turned into the harsh and welcome light of my corner Russian deli. I took out my coins to order soup and the waiter gave me one container, then another, then three. He filled a bag with saltines and a banana and warned me to be careful on my stairs. As i turned to go, he called me to wait and wrapped a piece of warm apple strudel. I thanked him and was on my way.

    I had to kick through knee deep snow to get through the downstairs entrance to my tiny brownstone apartment, sitting there smiling at me right at street level. It was dark and quiet inside, but my kitty’s eyes glinted in the window, her muted and eager meow visible in the streetlight. I opened one gate, then another, then unlatched the two locks on my door. The steam heat rose to meet me as the door opened and I prayed that the electricity was still on. The lights shivered alive and the room was flooded with its soft yellow haloes. My kitty circled my feet as I closed the wooden shutters and I smiled, happy at last. I looked around the single room with my tiny kitchen on one end. I filled a bowl with my soup and sat down to eat. A deep sigh filled me.

    My legs ached from dragging through the heavy snowstorm, my arms frozen from my soaked-through mittens. I supped the hot liquid and covered the bowl with my frozen hands. I smiled at my kitty, pouring a little soup in a cup for her, to satisfy her until I was full. I heard voices, and my upstairs neighbors laughing and talking as they clomped down the stairs calling my name, asking if I was alright. I smiled and got up to welcome them. Home, after all.

    • Laura Davis says

      This was spellbinding and so beautifully crafted. You completely carried me away into the world of this young woman and her transformation through the course of the storm.

    • Karla says

      I was so hooked by this story, especially the subtheme about New Yorkers helping each other (reminding me of many post 911 stories). Lovely language choices, great tension and emotional resonance.

    • Hazel says

      Sheila,
      Gripping story with all the twists and turns, the ebb and flow from crisis to peace and back again to crisis. The cultural and environmental comparisons were done very well. Your last sentence was nice finish, ” Home, after all.”

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Diana says

      Shelia,
      Amazing story. I was hooked through the trials of getting through the snow, navigating the strange city and strange culture. Experet discriptions of weather and it’s impact in your life at that moment.

  17. Ilana says

    The Storm Was on The Inside

    “See the kings men come, riding through the heather. ‘Mackenzie’s life’ they cried ‘and all his land.’ Silent clansmen stand motionless together. An English king won’t have a Highland man.” Roger Whittaker’s rich deep voice reverberated through me. I was lapping the campus for the third time. With the sun beating down on me, the music from the walkman blaring in my ears and the consistent rhythm of my steps, I managed to dull the pain. I walked past the quad again. The same people were still there. They sat in the grass enjoying the beautiful summer day. Most of them were couples picnicking. I envied them their joy. At least it meant they would not notice the crazy girl who’d already walked past them twice. This time when I came the river I would stop at the bench and sit down. It was a lonely spot but peaceful in its own way. It was on the sidewalk. There was about three feet of grass between the sidewalk and the water. Some tall plants grew from the river and waved gently in the wind. Unpacking my junk novel, I spread it over my lap and began to read. The sun beat down on my unprotected skin.

    My hair was shorn and my stomach hard with cramps from starving myself. I sat and read for hours. Sometimes I brought a small orange but I really couldn’t bear to eat much else. It was sad sitting all alone like that but my apartment was stifling. The heating system was messed up so it was 100 degrees all the time. Here it was at least natural heat, from the sun. Here I couldn’t hear the phone refusing to ring. I couldn’t see the month’s worth of dirty dishes my roommate had collected on the countertop to grow mold before leaving. Here I was safe from all that. Here I was dethatched from a least some of the pain. I felt the sun burning my skin. Good, I was doing myself some real damage. The burn on my throat had already blistered and started to bleed. I could no longer wear tee-shirts without pain so I cut out the necks to make them softer. I can’t imagine what I looked like, sunburned to blistered and bleeding, skinny as a rail and dressed like someone out of a bad ‘80s movie.

    Damage. That was my goal; to hurt my body as much as possible. I wanted to show that I was messed up and I didn’t care. I was nothing, nothing at all. No one knew where I was. I might as well not exist. This was how I spent my days since my friends had all left for the summer. My boyfriend had gone home back in February to have brain surgery and he was all I thought about. I couldn’t have known it back then but the relationship was based entirely on lies. I was so down on myself already that the emotional abuse was easy to pass off as my own fault and the one occasion of physical brutality was in a gray area. I was visiting him at his mom’s over spring break. He really hadn’t intended to hurt me. He was just angry because of the way I was behaving under the stress. Still, I knew I was unhappy. The surgery and resulting separation made an easy excuse for both my depression and his meanness. I was completely miserable and completely alone.

    So there I sat, day after day; reading junk novels, starving myself and working on a dangerous sunburn. I journaled too; all about Brian and how wonderful he was, how much I missed him. I dreamed about our reunion when he came back to school. I think something in me knew, even then, that it was never going to happen. I spent that whole miserable, sweltering, summer wasting away on that bench. The sunburn on my thigh was in a funny pattern because of the way the book had been sitting in my lap. A triangle of beet red skin blazed between the place where my shorts had protected me and the coverage of the book. More marks of this dreadful summer tattooed on my skin.

    That is how I remember the summer of 1995. It all came to an end on the same bench on a much cooler day. Brian came back to campus and we got ready for school. We inished moving into our new apartments and buying books a day early, leaving us one more afternoon to ourselves. I took him to my special spot. We sat there eating bologna sandwiches and potato chips. “What were you saying?” He asked me.

    I took a deep breath and started over. “Things haven’t been the same between us since you found out about the tumor. I thought it would get better when you came back but it hasn’t and I’m afraid that it will never go back to the way it was before.”

    “That’s a legitimate concern.” He said slowly.
    “What?!” Lightning bolts of anxiety shot through my stomach.
    “Ilana, I need to tell you something.”
    “What is it?” Another problem, another obstacle.
    “I’m gay. I’ve known for a long time, before I met you.”

    That was the last thing I was expecting him to say. I sat there frozen to the spot. The wind blew through the trees nearby and I listened to the leaves shiver. So free and natural, so unlike me. I couldn’t even move enough to breathe.

    He started talking again. “I didn’t want to be gay. I wanted you to turn me straight. That’s why I picked the prettiest girl at the Hillel (Jewish student center). I thought you could make me like you. I thought you could make me like women. But you didn’t.”

    It was a long time before it all made sense to me. Brian was one mixed up creep. He didn’t want to be gay so he charged a girl with fixing him and didn’t even tell her that was her job. She’d failed and he’d punished her. The tumor just made things more complicated but it didn’t affect the overall outcome of his experiment and her failure. It would have happened that way regardless. Maybe it would have taken less time. Maybe he would have had more time to hurt her physically if he hadn’t had to drop out of school for the surgery. I know, now, that not much else would have been different. He still would have expected me to change him. I still would have failed and he still would have punished me.

    Perhaps I would have been saved that long hot summer of starving myself and burning my skin with the sun. It doesn’t really matter. I already hated myself and would have found another way to try and destroy my body. Now, all these years later, here I am, happily married to a wonderful man who loves my feminine body and would never lie to me about anything. I am free of Brian La’rough. His memory doesn’t haunt me. I don’t hold a grudge or wish him ill. I wouldn’t even change anything if I could go back. I remember those long lonely days in the, literally, blistering sun with no regret and no remorse. All I feel is empathy for a girl who was utterly alone and did the best she could. It is a rich, deep, feeling that will always belong to me.

    • Janet says

      Oh Ilana, thank you for this piece. It is very moving. When he tells you he’s gay, I didn’t see that coming. I love the end of the story too. Like there was all this pain and it is all let go. “All I feel is empathy for a girl who was utterly alone and did the best she could. It is a rich, deep, feeling that will always belong to me.” Very powerful writing.

    • Karla says

      Ilana, this was beautiful and compelling storytelling. Thank you for sharing it. I am glad that you could tell it empathically and with a deep authenticity. Well, well done.

  18. Janet says

    May, 1980 LA. They called it, “The Storm of the Century”. It had rained so hard for so long the streets were rivers. I trudged home from work in my 1961 Volvo 544, the egg shaped one. I pulled up to the curb outside my little house in east Hollywood. Having forgotten my umbrella at work, I was afraid to get out of the car. I emerged pulling my coat over my head, ounce size drops splattered on my fingers.

    Beebe, my Siamese, danced on the tiny porch as I approached the front door. As I bent down to pick her up, I saw a 4×6 card wedged under the right side of the French doors. I heard the phone ring while my coat was slipping from my shoulder. I picked up the card and put it with the mail on the small kitchen table. By the time I reached the phone no one was there.
    I poured dry food into a bowl for Beebe after drying her off with a towel. I couldn’t believe the amount of rain hitting LA.

    A year before, I had left Oregon after graduating from the U of O. The weather up there would be sunny in August then cloud up in September and remain grey until the following July. After five years of that, I developed SAD, seasonal affective disorder, like my grand uncle, Dr. Elias Moore.

    In 1923, he was told to move himself and his family to southern California as a prescription for his weather-induced depression. His sister, my grandmother, and my grandfather made the move first. Elias never made it. He was killed in the great tri-state tornado of 1925 that killed 695 people. He was forever credited with saving my dad’s branch of the family tree from being wiped out.

    My kitchen was small with two arched windows where I could look out at the yard with a crepe myrtle tree surrounded by six camellia bushes, and a little round wire table and matching chair. I had yet to use the green and white stripe padding for the chair.

    I fixed my usual dinner, one bowl of chicken broth, a green salad topped with beets dressed with a sprinkle of basil, salt, vinegar, and olive oil. Sometimes I didn’t eat anything. As I reached for the empty salad bowl, I saw the card that had been at the door had writing on it that I hadn’t noticed before. It read:

    JANET,
    BEEN TRYING TO REACH YOU.
    PLEASE CALL AS SOON AS POSSIBLE,
    DAD

    I dialed dad’s number right away and I heard the ringing of my his phone on the other end of the line. As I held the phone in my left hand, I felt the now crumpled edges of the index card in my right. There was no answer.

    I laid down on my twin bed. This small bed was all I needed after my breakup with Victor last June.

    What was this about? Why would my father drive all the way up here from Laguna and leave a note? If it was so urgent he could have called me at work. Is it urgent? Well, “please call as soon as possible”, sounded pretty crucial.

    Maybe my older brother, Sam, had gone off the deep end, again. He was a Vietnam vet who would be okay, then something would set him off and he would go on a tangent where he would repeat stuff over and over. One time, Bro Sam showed up in Oregon and stayed with my boyfriend and me.

    He kept saying, “Jan, you know, we’re on the eve of destruction. Yeah, yeah, we’re on the eve of destruction. We’re on the eve of destruction.”

    Also, he would ring this bell I had hanging in the kitchen while he called to one of our cats, over and over. Finally, my boyfriend, said Sam had to go so we put him on a plane back to LA.

    I made chamomile tea. Stuffing the leaves into a metal perforated ball and letting it steep for ten minutes.

    Where is my dad? Why didn’t he leave the number of where he would be?
    I tried his number again. I let it ring for at least a minute. My hand ached, so I hung up.

    I thought about my mother. Maybe she was hospitalized. Though my parents were divorced, she and my dad had contact. Since my mother was not allowed to have my phone number, my dad would be the one to contact me if something had happened to her.

    When I was a kid, she would go to the hospital every year for a couple of weeks. Back in the sixties, in my neighborhood, it seemed going to the hospital was the only way our mothers knew how to get some space.

    At school, I remember, Linda and me laughing, “Yeah, let’s stay at my house, my mom’s ‘on vacation’ at St. Joe’s this week.”

    The tea was ready.

    Maybe they found Jimmy. No, if they found Jimmy, Dad would have put it in the note. This isn’t about my younger brother, Jimmy.

    He had been missing for ten months.

    I turned on the TV. Film from earlier in the day showed some poor fellow who had gotten too close to the LA River and had fallen in. A helicopter hovered over the water. A rescuer on a cable was being lowered down to him.

    Jimmy was twenty-one when he disappeared. He was sweet, gentle, and soft-spoken. The best way to describe him was, “curious”. He wanted to know how things worked. Once, he took the telephone apart to find out. He also loved to make things. He built a robot that could actually move by remote control when he was eleven. He was really smart. Though one time he ate a whole box of Exlax, thinking it was regular chocolate.

    From a very early age, like four or five, he had this obsession about where roads would lead. So when he disappeared it was easy to think he was exploring where roads went. He had done that when he first graduated from high school. He had hitchhiked all the way from LA to Portland, Maine. Then he went up to a monastery out near Santa Fe, New Mexico. No one heard from him for five months back then.

    They got the guy out of the water. I turned off the TV. I wanted a cigarette but I didn’t want to miss my dad’s call if there was one.

    I remembered when mom first told me Jimmy was gone last July.
    She said, “Something’s happened to Jimmy. I’m afraid he’s dead.”
    She talked about how he had put on his old clothes and walked out the door.

    “It’s no wonder. He’d go off and do something like this. After the way your dad treated him during the trial.” She said.

    I reminded her that Jimmy liked to wander and he probably wanted to escape the memory of all that by going to some ashram or organic farm collective. She wasn’t buying it. I couldn’t consider anything else.

    “You raised Jimmy, you know. I was so sick when he was little.” She said, slightly in a way that I had failed as a child mother and his disappearance was my fault. I let it pass. Her fear was heartbreaking.

    I was six and unhappy when Jimmy was first born. The baby this, the baby that, everything was about the baby. After they brought him home from the hospital, I put pop beads, colorful, small pea-sized balls that clicked together, on his crib bars to make it pretty.

    “Get those off of there.” Mom screeched like a hawk on fire. “What’s a matter with you? You want to kill your brother? He could swallow those and die. For pity sake.”

    I took the beads off quick as I could. How could mom think I was trying to kill my baby brother? I just thought they looked pretty. Besides, he seemed way too small to get to the side of the crib, reach down to the bars below the mattress, pull the beads apart, and then get them all the way up to his mouth.

    As he got older, Jimmy became more interesting and fun to play with while mom grew weary and distant. I taught Jimmy how to walk. I would hold onto his hands and he would take a few steps. Then when he was steady, I would let go for a second and he would try a step all by himself.

    Though my studio bedroom was small, it had this huge picture window where I could look out at the backyard. I stared out at the soggy crepe myrtle. My 110 pound body felt heavy on the bed. I was getting sleepy so I tried dad’s number again. No answer.

    While I was up at U of O, fifteen year old Jimmy and a friend had pulled a prank on a guy who hired them to clean up his construction site. But they took too much time to finish so he paid them a lot less than he had said he would. So Jimmy and his friend took the guy’s truck and drove it off the site and around the block and left it there, thinking it would be funny. For that, they were taken to juvenile court and given community service. All record of this was to be sealed.

    But, four years later, the police showed up at my mom’s door saying they had a warrant for Jimmy’s arrest. He was accused of having burglarized an elderly man’s home in South Central Los Angeles. An area of Los Angeles to which my brother had never been. Despite dad’s wealth he refused to help Jimmy, telling him he didn’t want to hear about all the drama. Mom said this broke Jimmy’s heart.

    A public defender was assigned. The case would be postponed four times over a year’s time. Each time it was postponed Jimmy would grow more despondent and fearful. Would he end up in jail? He lived at home throughout the ordeal. On a call to me, he told me he was afraid of these guys he saw when he got arrested.

    “They’re twice my size and full of tattoos.” He said. I laughed at the time. He sounded so cute and I couldn’t imagine he would ever end up in prison.

    Finally, mom got a cousin who was an attorney to take over the case. The attorney’s investigator found a photo record of my brother at an ATM at the time the crime took place. All charges were dropped and Jimmy was cleared.

    A year before, at spring break, I remembered Victor and I had taken Jimmy out to dinner. The case was over. He sat across the table from me. His long blond hair was stringy and his eyes were dull. The brother I knew was way up inside somewhere.

    “Jimmy, this summer, I’ll get a house when I get back from Oregon and you’ll come and live with me and Victor. It’ll take some time but you’re going to get over this.” I said. Jimmy who had eaten little and had said even less, brightened and asked if we could get a dog.

    Finally, someone picked up the phone at dads. It was Rita, his second wife. “I’ll get your dad,” she said, without greeting me, as was her usual way.

    I heard my dad’s voice, sounding low and graveled, “Hello, Janet, I’ve been trying to reach you. Where have you been?” He said.

    “I got your note, I’ve been calling for two hours,” I said.

    “Well, Rita and I were at your Auntie Pats,” he said, “we just got home.”

    There was a long pause.

    “Ha, Honey, I wish you were here. You’re alone, aren’t you? I wish you weren’t alone.” Dad said, his words growing slower and slightly muffled.
    Another moment of silence, then dad’s voice broke, “They found Jimmy. He’s dead.”

    More silence.

    Dad said, “Do you think you can drive? Can you get to Auntie Pats?”
    I said no or something. I heard dad cry and his phone fell to the floor. Then, I heard him clear his throat.

    “Ha, here’s Rita.” Dad said as his voice cracked again.

    I don’t know what Rita said. All I remember is my own voice.
    “I have to go now.” I said, in a small girl voice.

    Next, I heard the plastic click to the base of the phone. I stared ahead not seeing the armoire at the foot of the bed or the bathroom through the small open door just beyond it.

    “Jimmy’s dead,” I had heard it, but I couldn’t really form the words in my head. I floated outside myself somewhere, while my body made its way down the street in pouring rain. Instantly it seemed, I found myself, knocking on Victor’s door. It was a huge oak thing, the entrance to an old LA two-story craftsman style house from the 20’s. Victor was not home. He lived with a couple, Judy and Steven.

    When Steven saw my face, he said, “Judy is upstairs.”

    Next, I was laying on the bed in their room. Judy was on top of me, asking me what was wrong. Eventually, the wailing formed into words, “My brother’s dead. They found him.” My voice sounded as though it came from across the room.

    “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Oh, Janet, I’m so sorry.” Judy cooed in my ear. She didn’t stop until I sighed with exhaustion.

    It took a while, then, I called my mom.

    On the phone with mom, I struggled to speak. It seemed strange that she was not crying but then she told me she had had the news since around ten that morning. She said something about how she didn’t know how to comfort me because I always kept to myself, handling things alone. She was right. She knew me well. After a couple more hours at Victor’s, I went back to my apartment and mindlessly watched TV until I fell asleep.

    • Ilana says

      Janet- What a rich, full story. I love how you went back and forth between the scene you were experiencing at the time and the flashbacks that gave us the background. I could see you standing there, wet and dripping. I can hear the rain pounding on the window. Then I see your mind’s eye with the flashback. How elegantly you moved about in time. This gave the piece a beautiful flow. Really good read. Thanks! Ilana

      • Janet says

        Thank you, Ilana, I was worried the back and forth of the different periods of time might be confusing to the reader. Thank you for the feedback. I really appreciate your comment. Take care.

    • says

      Janet, this was a heartbreaking story. I’m glad you felt safe enough to share it with us here.

      My favorite lines actually were about using the “sanitarium” as a way to rest: “When I was a kid, she would go to the hospital every year for a couple of weeks. Back in the sixties, in my neighborhood, it seemed going to the hospital was the only way our mothers knew how to get some space.

      At school, I remember, Linda and me laughing, “Yeah, let’s stay at my house, my mom’s ‘on vacation’ at St. Joe’s this week.”

      • Janet says

        Laura, thank you so much. I have so many stories inside and as I tell them sometimes all these other stories emerge, like the one about my mom’s trips to the hospital. I appreciate your response. Peace and blessings. Janet

    • Karla says

      A lovely telling of a complex story. I thought you did such an amazing job with the chronological story broken up by the backstory of what happened in your family and with Jimmy. Thank you for posting this, it is really unforgettable.

      • Janet says

        Thank you, Karla, for such a wonderful comment. I love that you found it unforgettable and that you found the chronology well done. Thanks for the comment. Take care, Janet

  19. Sheila McGinley says

    She knew, even at the young age of 8, that it was the only solution. She nodded and hugged her mother, to stop the tears she saw welling now in those eyes. What was so bad, my grandmother said, about being out in the rolling hills, free to see the sun and flowers, green everywhere and turf for fires when she needed it? And how she loved the stubborn sheep all frantic in their bleats, bumping into each other! It was my Nana’s talk of Maisy, the sheep dog, that stopped the water from spilling over her beloved old mother’s cheeks. Of course, now, she would have Maisy with her, indeed she would, and Maisy was her friend. And so it was decided: she would spend her days as a shepherdess, rounding up and guarding the sheep of the grand land owner’s downs, and in return would be fed and given a warm bed of hay in the deep recesses of the barn, where every corner was filled with the sweet, bitter smell of wet sheep’s wool and shit. On Sundays, the lads from the landlord’s ground crew would take over and for that day she would be free to walk the two miles home to go to church and be with her family.

    It was a kindness done by the landlord’s wife, who had come to know her mother a bit through the years of laundry done and delivered, who had seen the slow bending of the spine from carrying baskets, the hair turned grey and the slow and aching steps while coming up the hillside, growing more painful while the decades passed. The Irish roads in this part of northern Donegal were so filled with rocks that it was easier to climb the pastures, but nothing is easy when you are the 60 year old survivor of the Great Potato Famine, living on a rock-filled patch of land a man could barely turn around in, a place where even a chicken gave up, expired at the thought of hunting for grub. She worried about this quiet woman who never flinched, never complained, but it was the youngest child, the one born to a tired mother of 9 long after her child-bearing years were thought to be done, that kept the landlady awake some nights.

    As she counted out the coins each week in payment for the laundry, the missus could not imagine how the result was enough to help feed this young one.

    Sure, and she would be willing to tuck some bread and a few extra potatoes in the refilled laundry basket to help out, but there was the pride to be considered. These people, they did not ask for help, especially help from the rich English landowner whose ancestors had watched the entire Irish race be slaughtered here by famine while they dined on duck and imported grains in their grand houses. That was how she came to the solution: there would be a sudden problem, a young servant boy run away, a need now for a young sheepherder, and could it be possible that their sturdy, green-eyed beloved daughter, the only child left at home, not gone to America (unless you counted the idjit, the one known as the wanting one, who paced the house all day into night crying out for mama) could come to live and work the sheep?

    She would be well-fed and clothed, but could, of course, still wear that grand red knit coat that her mother had spent all last winter making, a grinding slow work with her hands so swollen with arthritis from years of laundry and clearing ground to plant. Of course the coat was too fine for the fields, but the girl had not taken it off since she got it, except in those few glorious days that summer when the huge clouds that never left the Irish sky moved south and stalled there long enough for heat to come. Even then, the coat was folded soft and careful under the girl’s pillow, she heard, so that the young one could touch it as she stirred in her sleep. How was it that this little one could feel so rich, so loved by these parents old enough to be grands, even as she went hungry every morn and night, while the landlady herself, who as a child had everything, did not know the meaning of such love as that that went into the coat, as that that caused the girl now to nod and smile and joke with her ma, caring now more about her old mother’s feelings than she did about the hard life that lay ahead of her?

    And so it began, that summer, a life of sitting and roaming among the hills, the friendship of Maisy and the harassing of those sheep that jostled each other endlessly in dazed clumps. My Nana would place a pencil stub and bits of paper, already used on one side, deep into her pocket. Sometimes the landlady would slip her a book or a newspaper for the other pocket, special treasures. Because, of course, as fall came it was the not going to school that was the great loss. It was not the loss of giggling time with her friends that made her feel a bit sorry for herself as she sat staring in the fields. It was the learning. She ached to learn, ached to improve her slow reading and her penmanship, make it round and beautiful. She ached to hear again the round and singing sound of her motherland’s Gaelic fly through the doors of the school house, crashing into the harsh and guttural sound of English used in their studies. She missed the poetry they had memorized every day and often recited these poems to herself as she sat on a round boulder trying to find some sun to fight off the chill.

    She would be learning again someday, she promised herself. But for now she had to admit that it felt glorious to find her stomach warm and full most of the day and to reach into her coat pocket and touch the quarter loaf of bread she got fresh from the kind cook as she left the barn each morning. This would have to do, for now, and it was good to see her ma looking pinker and a bit plumper with each visit. Now if only winter would stay at bay, and if only the tinkers did not pass much too close with their donkeys in tow, looking for a chance to distract her while they snatched up that sweet baby lamb.

    She could see them on the road now, rounding into a circle and shutting down the windows on their peculiar round tinker wagons. She looked up, then, suddenly realizing what this meant and searching for the darkening clouds that meant the cold season’s first storm was upon them. The raindrops were already beginning to fall as she and Maisy began ranting at their addled charges, poking at them and bumping, rushing them up the hillside into the protected cove among the few rare trees. In there, in that small break in the wild and windswept turf fields, was a small cavelike rock house built long ago for just this protection from the wild Irish weather. They scrambled inside, her coat, damp with rain, joining with that of Maisy as they huddled together and watched the lightning flash across the sky. The rain chased little rivers down the hillside and into the downs, and she thought about what a long winter was to come.

    • says

      Sheila, I really enjoyed this story of your grandmother. I wondered how much you had to invent and how much you actually knew. What was it like to climb inside her life like that?

      • Sheila McGinley says

        It was a very strange but greatly exciting experience. It is hard to know, in a way, what I knew and if what I knew was my Nana’s truth or my mother’s climbing inside of Nana’s head or me climbing into either of theirs or my own! I would say about 60 percent of it was the basic story I had long heard, perhaps colored up: the shepherdess, the wealthy people, the red coat, the old parents, the “wanting” sibling, the love of education, the starving, the sheep dog. the gaelic but i might have gotten it backwards– they might have learned Gaelic in school.

        Another maybe 15 percent I spookily felt I knew from knowing my Nana and what she was like and because I both look like her and cry like her and am sentimental like her. And because when I was young i sat with those who knew her here and heard the stories and then went there several times and heard the stories and saw the utter poverty she was raised in.

        The rest was just the making it the story, making it go, so to speak. As my mom used to say when my dad would question a story she would tell, “Do you want the truth or do you want a good story?” We kids would all say, “a good story!” and my dad, would roll his eyes and shake his head……

        It was fun to do and weird how it opened up a memory– only a little, but still!– of how those Irish from Donegal talked, the cadence of their language and the joy in the words and stories. I hadn’t thought of it for years.

        And the whole story came from– how do I write a story that has weather as a background? Sometimes life is a surprise to me. That story, that red coat, has filled my imagination since I was a child. But it never popped up asking to be written until now! And because of weather?

  20. MaryL says

    On a Day When the Ice was Black

    It was a sunny day in early March. It hadn’t snowed for a week, so we secretly thought spring might be near. I had to drive down to Guilford (CT) from Middletown, where I lived, to meet with my brother. I took the State Road 77 because it was direct and it wound through the woody forest waiting for leaves to return.

    Suddenly, my car started to slip and I realized that my nemesis, black ice, was covering large spots on the highway. I know you are not supposed to slam on the breaks when you skid, knew it well – after all, I’d been driving in New England all my life, and you just knew these things. However, I didn’t have time for reflection, and the edges of the road were lined with ditches, those deep spots in which you do not want to land. So I slammed on the brakes.

    The car and I went 360 degrees before I lifted my foot off the brake and waited for the agonizingly long process of stopping. I thought the car was fine. I was wrong; the undercarriage had been damaged and a week later, the brakes would go … but in the driveway, out of harm’s way.

    After I’d stopped shaking, sitting in the car on Rt. 17, a woman stopped her car, got out, asked I was ok and if I needed any help. I asked her to drive me the rest of the way to Guilford where my brother had his office. Route 77 intersects Route 1, which is that slow road that goes from Florida to Maine. I guess I underestimated how far we had to go yet, because the woman asked several times, “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” I felt like apologizing, but really, where else would she be going? And, after all, she who had stopped had developed an attitude. The “random act of kindness” was taking too much time.

    I hobbled out of her car at my brother’s office. He asked what was wrong; I explained the spinning. I forgot to mention earlier that a couple of years earlier I had broken tibia and fibula (right leg) and had a rod between the ankle and the patella (knee). I feared it was another break, so we went to the Urgent Care, where the staff looked at my leg, took an X-ray, and pronounced me free of fracture. Looking back, I think that either they did not know how to read an X-ray or they didn’t want to read it carefully.

    A week later, I got in to see the orthopedic surgeon, responsible for the old surgery, and his Xray told a different story. He looked at me – expressionless – and said, “The rod is broken. It will have to be taken out and replaced.” He added. “Good luck. I am retiring end of the week, so someone else will do the surgery.”

    With a brand new stainless steel rod and added screws for fashion, I rehabbed again, and began to walk pretty well. However, the right leg was five-eighths of an inch shorter than the left. Don’t carpenters say, “Measure twice; cut once.” Duh!

    I thought of this experience the other day when our town was covered with ice, and then it melted and froze, and there was black ice all around. I had the luxury/ need to stay in. These days, I am more afraid of breaking a hip or some other large bone trauma.

    So, my friends, beware the intrinsically insane, icy infestations that interfere with innocent trips, inspiring irritation.

    &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

    When It Thunders

    I have never liked thunderstorms … no sir/ma’am. I have experienced violent, house-shaking, ear-splitting thunderstorms. I have sat in the “safe room” downstairs with radio, cellphone, book, cup of tea, blanket, waiting out a storm…. Many nights and days!

    On the other hand, I know the name of Alexander the Great’s horse and that man who carved the Monument in South Dakota. When we were kids, we’d sit in the middle of the house, inside doors closed, and Dad would take a volume of the supermarket encyclopedia set and read to us about things we never would have known. It’s called distraction and it’s a great tool for parents and teachers. After a while, the storm would end, and we could breathe easier …. until the next occurrence.

    I grew up in Connecticut, so thunderstorms were mostly seasonal (summer). These storms often combine with hurricanes, as in Gloria, where trees were split in half, in a random way, up and down the country roads of rural New England.

    Now that I live in the Midwest, thunderstorms are the enemy. I have a Weather radio (NOAA) set up to beep or even let out a siren sound, when extreme weather is getting close. They call this part of the country tornado alley, but really tornados can happen almost anywhere. And the alley is not like an alley in New York City, where you can hardly squeeze through. This past summer, weather systems have been up to a thousand miles in width.
    When Joplin, Missouri, was slammed with tornados a couple of years ago, we were not in the direct storm path. But my friend Janet’s mom lives in Joplin and despite some roof damage, insisted on staying in her home. That week thunder and lightning moved through here daily, night and day, and we experienced the shifts in wind speed, the changes in barometric pressure, the ennui that comes from day after day of hazy, hot, humidity.

    You develop a feeling of connection with neighbors (even six hours away) after a storm. In North Dakota, where blizzards sometimes brought winter thunder, people up and down the state grieved for the people who had been affected – homes destroyed, inadequate FEMA trailers, property loss, and the awful burning of Grand Forks, because fire equipment could not get in. It was a powerful connection, which I will never forget.

    When my son was little, he told me what thunder is. “It’s noisy boys and girls.” I’ll have to put that on a post-it and stick it onto my computer monitor when I hear rumbling. Why not?

    • Sheila McGinley says

      The black ice post reminded me of my experiences in New York City with black ice: the helplessness and fear. Then to go on and find out about your broken rod, that everyone missed! I was hooked and horrified. And, having never experienced a tornado, I am insanely afraid of them just as Easterners are insanely afraid of earthquakes. So I was almost afraid to read your post! I liked it when you said tornado alley is not like New York alley that you can squeeze through– such a great image and clarification for those of us who think just like that! And I do know the feeling of connection when a disaster happens to those nearby. Thanks for writing. I almost missed it, thinking that people were done!

      • MaryL says

        Sheila,
        Thanks for your kind words. I was so, so busy last week that I didn’t have space to write until yesterday. I love this Prompt exercise, and this topic is another winner. MaryL

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